Mazaska Talks, Indigenous Tribal members and their allies marched from the Seattle federal building on Sept. 30 to observe Orange Shirt Day, an event created to expose, oppose and rectify the damage done by Canadian government-sponsored residential schools, and U.S. government-backed American Indian boarding schools. 

Ixtli White Hawk, Mexika-Tenochca, center, and others gather for National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, also known as Orange Shirt Day, in Seattle on Sept. 30, 2023. (Credit: Erika Schultz)

The day of actions are held to honor Indigenous children stolen by settler authorities in the U.S. and Canada through the boarding school system. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 children died at residential schools in Canada. In 2022, a report from the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative identified marked and unmarked burial grounds at 53 separate U.S. sites.

Chants on the march led by Indigenous youth included: “No pride in genocide since 1492, no pride in genocide in boarding schools too.”

The march went to Westlake Center for a rally, where Lummi Nation member Freddy Lane spoke of his experience in the Chemawa boarding school in Salem, Oregon, still in operation since 1880. Records show that at least 270 children died at Chemawa. Lane introduced an Indigenous man who had crossed the U.S. border with his family when he was 5 years old, uplifting the struggles of undocumented immigrants.

Matthew War Bonnet of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, who previously testified before Congress about his experiences at the St. Francis Indian Boarding School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, addressed the gathering: “For 100 years the church operated by Jesuit priests had our children in their school.” 

He spoke of a priest throwing his brother down the stairs, breaking his arm. He spoke of Indigenous youth being killed. He pulled out a leather razor strap and talked about it being used constantly in the infirmary of the school. He ended his remarks by singing a memorial song about his experiences.

Another event honoring Orange Shirt Day was held on the Tulalip Indian Reservation north of Seattle on the site of the former Tulalip Indian School.

Orange Shirt Day should serve as a teachable moment for all students in this country from grade school to college, for them to learn of boarding school genocidal violence and how to stand up and protest the crimes committed against their Indigenous siblings.

Jim McMahan

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Jim McMahan

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